By Beth Sullivan
Those of us who live in Southeast Connecticut are very lucky to have one of the largest coastal preserves in the state. Barn Island Wildlife Management Area is more than 1000 acres of saltmarsh and coastal forest, owned and managed by the State and the DEEP. There is a little slice of this heaven that is owned by Avalonia Land Conservancy with a special history and is a gem in its own right. This is the Continental Marsh Preserve.
|Continental Marsh is a site of historical and ecological significance.
A bit of local history
During the American Revolutionary War, the Davis Farm , which is located east of Barn Island WMA, provided the Continental armies with hay harvested from the salt marsh and thus gave the piece its name. Salt hay was valuable for grazing cattle and sheep. The marsh provided income as the hay was also sold for livestock bedding and food. That particular grass is Spartina patens and is a fine sturdy grass that grows on a higher drier part of the marsh. Over the decades, due to many causes such as changes in tides, sea level rise and even peat compression due to more frequent flooding, the marsh has changed. It's become more compacted, lower and wetter, and the high marsh grass retreated to be replaced by Spartina alterniflora and other grasses that tolerate the wetter conditions. This new grass was not nearly as desirable for salt hay.
|The original nest lasted several years before it collapsed.
The area is secluded, almost like a “valley” of marsh, between the slightly higher coastal forests with a creek of tidal flow flushing it daily and bringing life deep into the marsh. It is this area that was donated to Avalonia land Conservancy in 1978 . Reading the deed to this property is like beginning a historical mystery using shifting shorelines, tidal creeks and ancient stone bridges as marker points to describe the boundary.
|Tree nests are not always sturdy and are vulnerable to predators.
About 8 years ago, volunteers erected a unique set-up to provide a nesting site for osprey. It was like a tripod with a basket on top to provide the elevated platform the birds require. For many years the nest was very successful. Two years ago, in a storm, it collapsed. In order to replace a nest, there is a very specific process to obtain permits, and it takes a while. The osprey did not want to wait. They took to the trees! Last year they created a big nest in the top of a seemingly fragile tree. It did not hold up well, and we believe it was abandoned.
|The trek out, carrying the new nest was challenging.
A new platform
We got our permits in order and were determined to offer a more sturdy option for this nesting season. Osprey are always expected in the middle of March, as early as the 14th, but usually later depending on the weather and winds. This gave us a deadline, and last week a team of volunteers got out onto the marsh ahead of the birds’ return.
|From one end to the other -
Negotiating the marsh is always a challenge, especially when carrying heavy poles and platforms. Wet holes are hidden under the long grass. But we got all parts and tools out and didn’t lose anyone in a ditch! It was assembled and erected on the marsh very efficiently and quickly. In about an hour the new platform was up and all the wood debris from the old one carried out.
|- the view is pure salt marsh.
A last look out onto the marsh revealed gray skies and still brown grass. Some Mallards and Black ducks flew up from the water. A few gulls soared overhead. We wished for the osprey and hope they will enjoy our efforts and nest successfully this year. We will let you know.
|The new platform is sturdy and ready for a house hunting pair of Osprey.
The Continental Marsh can be reached by walking in from the East Side of Barn Island, at the end of Stewart Rd/Bruckner Pentway. We ask that all viewing of the osprey nests is done from afar!
Photographs by Beth Sullivan.